Kenya’s vaccine rollout was a disaster, how do we pick up?

Members of the public queue outside Mbagathi Hospital to be vaccinated. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The Covid-19 vaccine roll-out has so far been a disaster and betrays the excellent framework adopted in the Health Ministry National Plan. How is it possible that such an important exercise has flopped in the first few weeks despite comparative international experiences and a five-month lead time to this moment? What do we need to put in place to recover the moment and proceed effectively?

Two weeks ago, this column profiled the National Distribution Plan. I made a public case for an orderly public health-led approach to universal vaccination targeting the most vulnerable first. The last fourteen days have been an example of how not to implement a national plan by citizens, state and corporate agencies.

The three-phased approach of frontline health-workers, police-officers and other state officers, those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly and then those in poor and informal settlements lies in tatters. Parliamentarians, captains of business and other members of the one per cent gleefully getting jabs flood social media.

Once again those we elected have been able to create an argument to be protected before the public they are supposed to serve. Rather than demand the Health Ministry creates a public health awareness strategy to ensure those most at risk are inoculated, the sterile self-interested argument emerged, “let us get the jabs first, others will be inspired to follow.”

Police sub-commanders remain unclear when our officers will get the jab. Medical professional associations and unions appear unsure whether to argue medical science and convince anti-vaxxers and those hesitant to take the vaccine. The Hindu Council announced their community needed the vaccine most. They even asked MP Shah - a national hospital, last time I looked - to specifically provide it for Kenyan Asians.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry generously offered the limited vaccine supplies to diplomats even though they come from nations currently hoarding the world’s supplies and could supply their own nationals if they so choose.

Then the crowds started showing up at Mbagathi Hospital and other health facilities. Parents, their children, office colleagues, the healthy and the young compete to jump ahead of health-workers, police-officers, those with co-morbidity conditions and the elderly who form 60 per cent of the deaths in our country to date.

Rather than hiding their age for a change, those in their fifties started to increase their age as the minimum age of 55, 58 or 60 years became less clear.

Under these conditions, we can safely assume that the older virus – bribery – spiked and money changed hands for a vaccine that is already free. Why the Health Ministry lost control of such an important moment needs investigation.

If my tone is sharper than usual this week, consider this. Wife, mother and social justice activist, Lorna Irungu died this week from Covid-19 related complications. Her 20-year-old victory over Lupus has been an inspiration to millions. Vaccine queue jumping directly threatens others like Lorna, the young Dr Stephen Mogusu and others. It must stop.

Just over half a billion doses have been administered globally. Just five nations, the United States, China, India, United Kingdom and Brasil are responsible for three fifths of the doses.

Israel started their national vaccination as far back as December 20th. By vaccinating as many as 230,000 people daily, this nation saw reduced infections within three weeks.

Barely three months old, the Biden/Harris administration has vaccinated twice the population of Kenya. Daily infection rates of confirmed corona virus cases have fallen from 250,000 to about 75,000.

Measured against this, with only 60,000 jabs, Kenya is still only taking baby steps. As the Health Ministry catches its balance and enforces the National Plan, it is worth offering some humble observations. The roll out seems so pedestrian in this digital age. Must the list of health facilities be shared in a PDF?

Must we require people to join long queues to see whether they will be inoculated or not? Perhaps the Health Ministry could invest in a website that allows us to find our closest centre and register for the first available slot on a first come first serve basis.

If we are to decisively crush the Covid-19 virus, we must all be vaccinated.

We must caution the fearful from panicking and jumping the queue. By focussing on their senior citizens, the US was able to reduce emergency cases by 80 per cent. There is science behind phasing. I am ready to be vaccinated but I am not willing to jump the queue.

-The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. He writes in his personal capacity. [email protected]

Covid 19 Time Series